THE ZECKENDORF FOLLIES

At this point, it might be appropriate to ask where Mayor Wellington Webb's appointed planning director, Jennifer Moulton, stands on all this. Moulton has taken a decidedly low-profile approach to the Zeckendorf project, failing to even show up at either the April 23 or May 2 meetings. This is hardly surprising, since the former head of Historic Denver turned her back on preservation long before the current struggle.

And what about DURA? Denver citizens might expect that the whole Zeckendorf struggle could have been avoided had DURA provided credible leadership. It would have been well within DURA's rights to demand that Kummer respect the plaza in exchange for the public largess he expects. But DURA has never been a genuine friend of preservation, even if executive director Susan Powers has brought up the agency's relatively paltry $1 million contribution to the rehab of the Denver Dry building once for every dollar the agency devoted to the project.

Powers doesn't even pretend to embrace preservation with regard to Zeckendorf Plaza. It's hard to tell who she represents, since she's most often seen shilling for Kummer instead of safeguarding the public interest. A good example of her attitude occurred at the City Club on April 25, when Powers, with a mixture of contempt and ridicule, said she couldn't see how anyone could associate Pei's pyramidal paraboloid in Denver with Pei's pyramidal atrium at the Louvre in Paris. The admission by Powers that she was incapable of making even this extremely simple formal comparison--something surely even many children could do--may have been inadvertent. But it does tend to put her credibility on the topic of architecture into question.

Her defenders argue that what Powers lacks in architectural sophistication she makes up for in business acumen. The trouble with this view is her rotten track record. Before coming to DURA, Powers headed up Englewood's renewal authority from 1981 to 1987. Her principal activity then was a project that cost old downtown Englewood its only signature small-town block, which was cleared to create space for a new retail center. Powers bailed out of Englewood before the chickens came home to roost in the form of a renewal-authority bond default in 1991. And the comedy of errors over which she presided in Englewood will only be complete with the demolition, later this year, of some of those new retail shops Powers helped get built, the mostly never occupied Trolley Square. Notice that preservationists have not rallied to save the shopette, which stands for now as a memorial to Powers's failure as a commercial visionary.

If Powers successes are elusive, not so the triumphs for historic preservation. While Powers was enabling pie-in-the-sky schemes down in Englewood ten years ago, historic preservationists in Denver were laying the groundwork, through the creation of a landmark district, for the LoDo renaissance of today. Without landmark protection, the neighborhood would surely have been a sea of surface parking by the time Coors Field got there. There would have been no bustling success story, because there would have been no buildings left to turn into the luxury lofts, swank galleries and crowded nightclubs that now fill the neighborhood. The situation is the same at Zeckendorf Plaza today as it was in LoDo in the 1980s. And once again, the preservationists are right.

Sometime next month the next chapter in the biggest preservation struggle of the decade will unfold. At last word, the Denver City Council was scheduled to take up the question of historic landmark protection for Zeckendorf Plaza at its June 19 meeting.

Whenever the issue does come before the council, Denver will face an acid test of its civic will and character. Shame on us if we fail.

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